Zimbabwe again forces ‘total Internet shutdown’ amid unrest

Protesters took to the streets after President Emmerson Mnangagwa increased fuel prices. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Zimbabwe again forces ‘total Internet shutdown’ amid unrest

  • MISA-Zimbabwe and local human rights lawyers challenged the shutdown in court
  • The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights says they treated more than 100 injuries

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe on Friday faced a “total Internet shutdown,” a media group said, after a days-long violent crackdown on people protesting a dramatic fuel price increase. Badly injured people streamed into a hospital in the capital after alleged assaults by security forces.

“Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

Media group MISA-Zimbabwe shared a text message from the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, calling the government’s Internet order “beyond our reasonable control.” The High Court will hear a challenge to the shutdown on Monday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

A prominent pastor and activist who faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge arrived at court, one of more than 600 people arrested this week. Evan Mawarire has called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.

Mawarire is accused of inciting civil disobedience online. “It’s a shame what’s happening,” the pastor said.

International calls for restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces are growing, while Mnangagwa prepares to plead for more investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hard-line former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive. Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest. Rights groups and others have accused security forces of targeting activists and labour leaders in response, with the United States expressing alarm.

The UN human rights office on Friday urged Zimbabwe to stop the crackdown, noting reports of intimidating door-to-door searches by security forces.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.

Injured people streamed into a private hospital in the capital, Harare, on Thursday. Some had broken legs. A nurse attended to a man with a broken spine.

Albert Taurai told The Associated Press he had ventured out to look for bread when plainclothes officers wearing masks beat him up, accusing him of barricading roads.

Keith Frymore, a 21-year-old security guard, had a torn lip. He told the AP a group of uniformed soldiers attacked him at work.

“I need $70 to get help here. I don’t have that kind of money,” he said.

Other hungry Harare residents who ventured out seeking food have reported being tear-gassed by police. Soldiers were still controlling long fuel lines in the capital on Friday, and many wary residents stayed at home.

Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

The Internet shutdown cuts off crucial access to the mobile money that Zimbabwe’s government uses to pay teachers and other public workers. Some said they can no longer afford fares for public transport, and some shops have run out of basics such as bread.

Death tolls in this week’s unrest have varied. Eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.”

But among those arrested are several ruling ZANU-PF party community leaders as well as a soldier and a police officer.

The UK’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters.

The European Union in a statement late Thursday noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that Internet service be restored.


Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

Updated 14 min 34 sec ago
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Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

  • Taliban raided one of the NGO’s clinics last week in which 4 people died
  • The NGO said closing the clinics will affect 6,000 patients

KABUL: A Swedish non-governmental organization in Afghanistan says the Taliban have forced the closure of 42 health facilities run by the non-profit group in eastern Maidan Wardan province.
Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, communications manager at the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, said on Wednesday the facilities were closed after Afghan forces raided a clinic run by the NGO in Daimirdad district last week. Troops were looking for suspected Taliban fighters.
The committee says two staff members, a guard and a lab worker, and two other people were killed in the attack. A fifth person is missing.
Insurgents contacted the staff and ordered the NGO to shut down. Faizi says the closures will affect health services for around 6,000 patients, particularly women and children.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the closure of the facilities.